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ACLU wants feds to investigate Catholic hospitals' ban on sterilization procedures

ACLU Michigan

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaintagainst a Flint-area Catholic hospital with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

The complaint says Ascension Health and its subsidiary, Genesys Health System, would not allow doctors to perform a medically necessary tubal ligation on a pregnant woman with a brain tumor.

According to the complaint, Jessica Mann was a Genesys patient for 16 years and had given birth to her first two children at Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc, south of Flint. When she was pregnant with her third child, she planned to deliver again at Genesys. Because a pre-existing brain tumor could be life-threatening during pregnancy and childbirth, her doctors recommended she undergo a tubal ligation at the time of her scheduled cesarean delivery. 

Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Genesys refused permission for this medically necessary procedure on religious grounds, and as a result Jessica Mann had to find another hospital and another doctor only weeks before the baby was due.

"They regard tube-tying as a form of sterilization and against their [the Catholic Church's] religious directives," said Korobkin.

The complaint argues that Ascension and Genesys's policy is a form of sex discrimination, and asks the federal authorities to step in to make sure that the health systems comply with the non-discrimination requirements of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act as a condition to receiving federal funds like Medicare and Medicaid.

"Jessica Mann and women all over the country should not live in fear of being denied essential health care by hospitals simply because hospitals are placing religious beliefs over medical standards," Korobkin said.

Korobkin said nearly one in four hospital beds in Michigan is in a Catholic hospital.

"As a Catholic healthcare system, we follow the ethical and religious directives of the Church," said Ascension spokesperson Cindy Ficorelli in a written statement. "Beyond that, we can't comment on this patient's particular case."

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.